MIND OF THE WAR
“...” Lino opened his eyes with great difficulty, his expression terrible.
For the past three hours, the talisman in his void world was trembling non-stop. Despite him ignoring it, it never stopped. Over and over. And over. Like a beat of the drum it bellowed into his mind. Even if he was a hundred time as sleepy, he’d still remain wide awake as he was now.
His mood soured, he sat up onto the bed and lit up the beside candle, cursing what ought to never be cursed as he took out the talisman from the void world. His brows furrowed as he recognized it was actually the Emperor’s. Quickly donning the mask he lit it up whereupon a projection screen suddenly filled half a room, behind which a familiar face stared at him.
“... what?” Lino asked in a grumpy tone.
“Apologies for disturbing you this late,” the Emperor said, bowing his head slightly. “But it is an emergency.”
“What is?” Lino asked.
“The Hell’s Army had made its first move,” the Emperor said. “An entire Legion, to be precise, has been spotted on the Southern Shore moving inland. I have dispatched Jean and the Holy Titans Legion to intercept them. They should meet within one of the Southern Seafaring Valleys.”
“... alright. Summon me.” Lino grumbled lowly, yawning and unleashing a smidgen of Qi. Barely a blink later a vortex appeared next to his bed, through which he casually walked.
He was met by quite a large audience this time around too, at the very least ten times as large as the previous one. While most stood at the side of the centerpiece of the room -- a massive, round table made out of old-looking stone -- six figures in total sat around the table itself, with the Emperor sitting at the most lavish-looking chair. Lino glanced around the masses for a moment and inspected their overall strength before walking over to the table and sitting down on one of the chairs.
Considering the sudden murderous gazes that landed on his body, he realized that the Emperor hadn’t told them anything. His lips curled up into a faint smirk as he glanced at the Emperor. Testing me, huh? Can’t even drop these childish games as the war is breaking out... sheesh...
“Anyone who hasn’t reached the Realms of Godhood,” Lino spoke in a mellow and casual voice, ignoring the freezing atmosphere. “Get out.”
“...” a rather long moment of silence unfolded as the people present seemed incapable of processing what Lino just said. Even after nearly a minute, nobody as much as took a breath, let alone anything more.
“Was I unclear?” Lino said, lifting his gaze off the table and looking at the mass of people standing around him. “Or do I need to personally throw you out?”
“WHO THE HELL DO YOU THI---” a whizzing sound stirred the winds as a youthful-looking man found himself bleeding through the clear air and crashing into the wall behind, causing a massive explosion to bellow. The man felt a sudden urge within his throat and within a single cough he felt as though he’d bled out half the blood in his body. It was only then that his mind managed to catch up with the pain he received, causing him to scream out in agony.
Lino, on the other hand, stood where the young man used to stand, his right leg lifted up, soles of his shoes seemingly spitting out smoke, with hands in his pockets.
“You really think you can win the war with fucking around?” Lino suddenly shifted his eyes away from the youth onto the Emperor, the latter suddenly feeling as though doused in the coldest water in the world. “One more fuckery, and I’ll crack your skull open and let your entire Empire fall before moving a single finger. Got it?”
“...” though many wished to sound out a voice, nobody dared to; those eyes hidden beneath the porcelain mask terrified them all to the very cores of their beings. After all, even though majority of the people in the room had higher Cultivation Realms than Lino, none -- not even the Emperor himself -- had cultivated the Will as overbearing and as powerful as Lino’s. So long as it was a match in the overbearing attitude, Lino was certain very few were his match.
“... everyone beneath the Realms of Godhood, please leave.” a few full minutes into the suffocating silence, the voice of the Emperor suddenly sounded out. However, Lino didn’t move his eyes away from the Emperor, forcing the latter to hold the gaze despite wanting to pull away.
Lino knew very well that Emperor Rex was not a fool; otherwise, he would have never inherited the throne. Had it been any other circumstance, Lino might have even played along with the charade, but there was no time for it. There were only two people besides him in the entire room who had realized Lino’s identity, both of whom were sitting with their eyes closed, seemingly indifferent to the reality of things. All the rest, while perhaps strong enough to influence the war, certainly couldn’t attribute much within this room. Tsk, Lino clicked his tongue inwardly. What a wasted opportunity... if Sarah or Ava saw me just then... he he, their husbands wouldn’t know what hit them...
Soon, one by one, people began leaving. Some glanced at Lino with anger, some with hatred, some with agitation, and some even with fear. Within a minute, the previously packed room felt eerily empty, having only eleven people inside -- including Lino.
Looking around, besides the six already sitting, only four stood -- three elderly men and a girl. Lino quickly recognized her -- Elundia, the secret card of the Unholy Calling Sect, just a single level away from obtaining a Void Title. According to the information he received about her, she wasn’t even a hundred years old yet. The world’s truly filled with the monsters of all sorts...
Glancing casually at the remaining three, he turned around and walked back to the chair, sitting down before taking out a gourd of cheap ale and drinking some. Nobody else spoke out in the meantime, seemingly all waiting for him to say something.
“Now that the nuisances are gone,” Lino said after a few sips. “Which Legion is invading?”
“... we are not too certain.” the Emperor said, biting his lower lip.
“Did you scout out the Commander?” Lino asked.
“Yes,” the Emperor nodded. “He is a Sin-Devil Variant, as you have informed us. Tall, white hair, six horns, doesn’t seem to wield a weapon.”
“... En’kav?” Lino mumbled, stroking his chin. “They’re starting out fairly weak, it seems. Are these all that you’ve managed to pull in without revealing my identity?”
“Yes.” the Emperor nodded faintly.
“From what I recall, the Southern ends of the Continent are led by the Anyua Family, correct?”
“Why are they not here?”
“... they... they said their Leader was busy.”
“... busy, huh...” Lino mumbled, tapping his finger against the rather coarse surface of the table. “Anyway, let’s hear your guys’ suggestions. What do you wanna do?” Lino said after a short thought. Though he had his own plans, it is possible he might have overlooked something; in the end, he didn’t have any experience with commanding such large-scale battles.
“... if I may.” one of the two who kept his eyes closed all the while suddenly opened them. Lino glanced at the man and smiled faintly. He was none other than the Sky-bearing Monk, perhaps even the strongest man on the continent. As the Emperor and him never fought, it was hard to really make predictions. Even if nobody else arrived, it would have been enough for Lino if this man alone did. As most other Monks, the man donned a simple robes, his head entirely balded, eyes and lips thin and narrow, his face even somewhat menacing.
“Go on.” Lino nodded faintly.
“I first wish to confirm my suspicion,” the Monk said, bowing slightly. “Is it alright if I divulge your potential identity to those in the unknown?” Lino merely nodded. “Are you a Descended?”
“I am.” Lino replied casually, yet that casual remark suddenly stirred those who still appeared somewhat agitated.
“... so you really were,” the Monk suddenly smiled faintly, nodding. “I found it suspicious that Little Rex suddenly decided to invite so many people over because of a small-time Devil invasion.”
“...” though the chatter quickly filled up the silence, Lino ignored it and focused onto the Monk, as he very much doubted that was all that the man wanted to say. However, the man patiently waited until everyone quieted down before continuing. Aah, this is why the Monks are such a pain in the ass to deal with...
“I assume that this is only the beginning then?” the Monk asked.
“Yeah.” Lino nodded. “In total, you can expect at the very least 18 Legions of the Hell’s Army, each Commanded by an individual Sin-Devil Variant. Plan accordingly.” perhaps even more than the declaration of his identity, Lino’s words stunned everyone within the room into silence -- even the Monk himself. After all, only the Emperor thus far was privy to that information, and yet even he had a hard time processing it completely. It stung even more as so many people who could have at least contended with the Sin-Devil Variants had refused his invitation.
“... hoooh, I see...” the Monk took a deep breath and quickly calmed himself down before everyone else, his somewhat lazed eyes shining in a glint. “This will be a Continental War, then.”
“Precisely.” Lino didn’t deny it.
“... it also means it could last for years, if not decades,” the Monk said. “So--”
“It won’t,” Lino shook his head. “If you don’t achieve a victory -- either by completely annihilating the Hell’s Army or pushing them back into their dimension -- within five years, you will all be stripped of your honors and exiled into the Desert of Madness for ten millenniums.”
“Within five years?!”
“Pipe down, won’t ya?” Lino quickly ended the chatter; it does feel quite good to drop bombs like this onto people... the reactions are priceless... Lino snickered inwardly.
“... p-please, tell us your plan then,” the Monk stuttered; even he couldn’t quickly calm himself down. “So we may react accordingly.”
“It’s simple,” Lino said. “If the Devils combine their Legions, you’ll die. If more than four battles break out simultaneously, you’ll die. If any single person in this room dies, you’ll all die. If you dare run away, I’ll make sure you die. So, to win, just make sure you don’t do any of those things.”
“For the first battle,” Lino said, glancing at the Emperor. “There’s no need for the Guardian of Light to Command the Legion. Inform him to halt in his current position and build a battle fort, regardless of where he is. Second Prince can lead the Titan’s Children Legion and clash against the En’kav’s. However, Southern Seafarer Valleys are a terrible choice,” he continued, ignoring the mixed expressions. “En’kav is a Sin-Devil specializing in the Gate Law. He had designed a method unique to him that he uses to fight: anything that can be stored within a void world, he has stored, and he can spit it out at a moment’s notice. In reality, if his Qi is sufficient, he could bombard the entire continent by Ancient Artifacts and bury you all before you even have a chance to understand what’s happening. Luckily, because of the uniqueness of his cultivation method, he’s pathetically weak -- especially so in the duels.”
“However,” Lino’s eyes narrowed momentarily. “If you meet him out in the open field, even if you hurl twice as many men at him, the outcome would still remain the same: you would die. Second Prince will split his Legion into three; the main force should intercept En’kavs just past the Valleys, within the narrow enclave of the Southbearing Mountain range. In the meantime, the other two groups should be armed with any flying-type beast that you can find and flank the main force from the two sides. Second Prince is more than strong enough to duel En’kav alone, so long as the latter isn’t protected by his own forces. If you have any questions, feel free to ask.”
“... I have.” Lino glanced toward the source of the voice and saw a young man sitting next to the Emperor Rex -- Second Prince On’yal. A spitting image of his father, one could say that the only difference besides the age were their eyes, with the Prince having an eternally-bored look on his face.
“Go on.” Lino smiled faintly.
“What makes you think I can contend against the Sin-Devil Variant?”
“Usually, nothing,” Lino shrugged. “But, you’re pretty much the only person here specializing in the Spatial Law which makes you his best counter.”
“... you know of my specialization?” the Prince asked with a seemingly bored voice.
“...” Lino merely smiled before speaking out yet again. “We’ll go with the N-S-E-W defensive formation. In the south -- for the time being, at least -- Second Prince will take the Vanguard position with the Guardian Jean acting as a support behind him. Inform the latter that it’s like putting out fires -- if he hears about a movement from the Hell’s Army, he goes toward it until a backup arrives.”
“Patriarch Chen, I hope you’ll allow Elundia to take the Eastern Vanguard, with your Guardian taking the supporting role.”
“... alright.” the man in question nodded, smiling faintly.
“The three of you,” Lino then glanced at the three men standing next to Elundia. “Will take the Western Vanguard, leading one of the Empire’s Legions. Talk with the Emperor about which one. Revered Monk, if I could bother you to act as the support.”
“It shall be done.” the Monk nodded, also smiling faintly.
“The North will be a combined effort,” Lino continued. “Send all those close to the Godhood Realms to act as a Vanguard for the time being. The Emperor and I will take the supportive role for the time being. Also,” Lino added, taking out a few talismans. “Each of you should bind a few to this room as it will from now on act as a War Room. In the meantime, bring your best charted maps and combine them and then hang them on the walls. Each major force, in addition, will need to start mass-producing long-range Communication Talismans, at least 5,000 per day, with minor forces contributing at least 1,000. The Logistics Legion of sorts will be formed from each force’s best scouts and assassins. I assume there’s no issue with Princess Annabelle acting temporarily as the Commander?”
“... no.” the Emperor said, piecing together the plan inside his head.
“For the time being, shift your focuses south,” Lino said as he got up. “And observe the beginning of the war.”
“What if it is a diversion?” Second Prince suddenly asked before Lino had a chance to leave.
“Diversion?” Lino glanced at him and smiled faintly. “Looks like you’ve truly never met a Devil before. Have fun entangling with one. I have high hopes for you.”
Lino left the previously calm room in disarray. He was certain none of them would be getting any sleep anytime soon. While he didn’t exactly lay out the entire plan, it was never his intention. He simply chose to organize a defensive formation that could endure multiple battlefronts without falling apart. There was no reason yet to proactively seek engagements as the Continent certainly wasn’t yet ready for an all-out war. Just the formation of the Logistics Legion, Lino imagined, would take at least a month, and then at least half a year before they’re anywhere close to decent.
He’d also devised a contingency plan in case the Hell’s Army sent out someone else to act as a vanguard, but it seems that they had similar ideas to Lino. En’kav, while by no means weak, was definitely the weakest of all the Commanders. If the Devils were truly interested in immediately engaging into a massive war, they’d have never sent him to act as the main force.
“This is a good chance for you to get stronger.” the robotic voice suddenly echoed inside his head as he landed back into his bedroom.
“Or to die. That’s also a possibility.”
“Indeed it is, though there is no reason to be pessimistic. If you manage to craft the armor you’re designing, your chances of survival will increase exponentially. However, the first thing that should be on your list is to reach Illumine Realm. You’re only a few Levels away anyway.”
“Will I get something good if I do?” Lino asked with a grin.
“You’ll be able to further assimilate the two singularities, and will have authority to select a Primal Spirit.”
“... I guess I should cultivate instead of sleep, then?” Lino grumbled boorishly.
“A few days should be enough.”
“Yeah, yeah... god, which freak designed cultivation to be so boring... just sitting around all day like a freaking statue, doing absolutely nothing, watching the precious days of youth pass you by... what more proof does anyone need that intelligence means insanity? I mean, just how power-hungry you need to be to design...” and so Lino grumbled as he got into the cross-legged position, deciding not to leave his room before reaching Illumine Realm.